Archive for the ‘Spring 2008’ Category


Miscellaneous observations from an educational communicator’s perspective

Mixing Apples and apples.

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Mixing Apples and apples. We’ve heard much about the claim by Apple Inc. that New York City’s fresh GreeNYC logo is too similar to its own and must be pruned. Apart from the drawing of the leaf, we think the graphic look of the GreeNYC logo bears little similarity to Apple’s, making it hard to confuse one with the other. Besides, New York has a legitimate claim to the word “apple,” since “The Big Apple” has been New York’s nickname since the 1930s. We understand Apple’s right to protect its trademark, but this nitpicking demonstrates that two very strong and very different brands make it hard to confuse apples with Apples.


Miscellaneous observations from an educational communicator’s perspective

Truth in packaging

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Truth in packaging. Recently, I received an intriguingly bulky envelope in the mail that aroused my curiosity. I opened it and was disappointed to find a square of bubble wrap—the cause of the bulkiness—“protecting” a letter that was a sales pitch for a financial institution. Although the package’s shape persuaded me to open it, I did not appreciate being tricked into expecting something more. Perhaps this approach will garner some interest in the short term, but a marketing strategy that relies on trickery can only backfire over the long haul by making a company seem untrustworthy. We prefer envelopes that honestly entice us to investigate further. The envelopes we designed for the University of Baltimore did just that.

Clever copy draws attention and encourages a closer look. We can’t measure the exact impact of these envelopes, but we know that actual applications more than doubled projections.


Miscellaneous observations from an educational communicator’s perspective

Frightening food for thought

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Frightening food for thought. I saw these containers in a deli while on a recent trip to upstate New York. The misspelling reminded me that typos can be quite funny. But when you’re working on the other side of the deli counter, typos are rarely funny and can result in ghastly reprints, confusion, and embarrassment. We communicators must stand by the accuracy of our work. And those are words we should never have to eat.


Miscellaneous observations from an educational communicator’s perspective

Learning from the logo mistakes of others

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Learning from the logo mistakes of others. The world’s most overused design device is making another appearance in the recently revamped Dairy Queen logo. I’m not quite sure what compelled the redesign in the first place, since the original logo is a fine example of clean, simple design that has decades of recognition equity. The distinctive typeface of the original has now been “modernized” with a serif, italic font—two no-nos when legibility on signage is imperative. There is no longer a space between the D and Q, which intensifies the poor legibility. But even these blunders seem insignificant when compared to the monstrous upper and lower swooshes that obscure the strong background shape. Colleges can learn from mistakes like these, because we share a common problem with corporations like Dairy Queen—making our identities memorable to our audiences. Adding swooshes and italic type to a traditional logo does not a new logo make. To the contrary, adding superficial flourishes may only distort and complicate your logo—and your identity—in the eyes of audiences.


Miscellaneous observations from an educational communicator’s perspective

Are you zug?

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Are you zug? Cruising through a magazine recently, I came across an ad that made me stop to read more closely. Attached to the magazine page was a tiny 12-page booklet about a new car in the Mini Cooper family. This novel marketing approach introduced a new word, “zug,” meaning “to be unlike others; to do something different.” The ad made a strong case for the zugness of Mini Cooper’s new car until, a few pages later, I came across another mini-booklet for another car manufacturer. You can’t be different or unlike others if your competitors are using the same marketing tactic. Even when you think your messages are distinctive, they may not be. That’s why it’s important to keep track of your competitors and then go your own way.

FEATURE : Instant Website Test

Instant Website Test

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Is there a way to get quick feedback on your website’s marketing messages without committing to a full-blown communications audit? At GCF we say, yes, there is! Try this simple test. The results just might surprise you.

  1. Visit the homepage of your top three competitors and study each for 10 seconds.
  2. Look away from the screen and write down a word or series of words that describe your impressions of each homepage.
  3. Now do the test on your own institution’s homepage.

If you’re not happy with how your website stacks up, it may be time to seriously reconsider the messages you’re sending. Remember, visitors are making assumptions about your site in the blink of an eye. The Instant Website Test replicates the speed with which you—and your competitors—are being evaluated. Although not all visitors enter your site through the homepage, it provides the most common point of engagement. It is vital that this key gateway delivers a powerful and appropriate message about your institution.

FEATURE : Websites we love

Websites we love

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Every year we visit and evaluate hundreds of college websites. In this issue of Cram, we consider three websites that exhibit innovative navigation techniques: Pratt Institute, Brown University, and the University of Hawaii’s School of Architecture.

College website navigation has become very predictable these days: top left corner logo (which serves as a link to the homepage throughout the site), left-hand links, right-hand search engine. Designers based this template on how the human eye takes in the computer screen. However, colleges are finally using websites as the marketing powerhouses they are, and those institutions are realizing that they need to do something different in order to stand out from the competition. Pratt, Brown, and UH’s School of Architecture are differentiating themselves with innovative website navigation.

Pratt’s homepage features flat-level navigation that is refreshing and intriguing to behold. According to Michael Gee, Director of Pratt’s Web Group, the Institute’s website needed to accomplish two main goals: to present information in a concise, easy-to-navigate manner, and to allow content to be published quickly and easily. The solution was to feature expanding columns of information on top of the homepage, which stays in the background until you get to the third level (three clicks deep). The site relies on large images for visual interest while keeping streaming video, flash animation, and other technical devices to a minimum. Such a minimalist approach keeps the site clean, fresh, and easy-to use. Admittedly, some links were not working properly, and we were unable to open the student and faculty portfolio section. Some links to student blogs were not working either. These technical glitches were a clear disappointment in an otherwise intelligently crafted site.

Brown University’s homepage looks so different from all the other college websites out there that it’s memorable—and easy—to explore. There are ten folder-type tabs that expand when rolled over. Each tab contains three to five links to take visitors deeper into the site. Although each department has created its own look, the main homepage maintains a strong identity for the University.

UH’s School of Architecture has similar tab-type links on its homepage, although to proceed into the site, you click the photograph rather than the text. There are also icons to help guide visitors toward three categories of information: place (a reddish-brown palm tree), program (a golden silhouette of two buildings), and people (a green abstract bust of a person).

Before you take the plunge
It’s probably safe to assume that it took some time and effort to get everyone at these institutions on board with such innovative website navigation. Before your college takes the plunge into new navigation territory, consider these three questions:

  • Is the proposed navigation still intuitive? That is, can audiences figure it out?
  • Does the resulting website still answer important audience questions?
  • Does it work on most browsers/operating systems?

Usability testing is key. Make sure that the site works, that each page includes an easy link back home, and that there’s a search engine available.

FEATURE : Harness the branding power of alumni magazines

Harness the branding power of alumni magazines

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Alumni magazines can be more than just a place for grip-and-grin photos and self-congratulations. Why not use these very visible publications to highlight stories that show how your college is changing the world for the better through research, community service, and other institution-sponsored programs?

We designed the covers shown here for two of Widener University’s alumni publications, one for the overall university and one for the law school. We helped them show audiences how the college is opening doors to new cultures, and how its law school is on the cutting edge of criminal defense and surveillance technologies. These articles are not only interesting and engaging, but they also strengthen Widener’s brand. Your alumni magazine can do the same for your institution—and still have room to share alumni news and help people reconnect with their classmates.


Cool Tools

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Making the most of YouTube:
There’s a way to upload videos that exceed YouTube’s ten minute limit. Sign up for a free director’s account and start uploading longer files right away.

Finding that perfect photo
Photosharing websites have changed the way many of us browse and buy stock photography. Flickr may be the biggest of the photosharing sites but there are many other options to explore:
Photo Gallery

The end of bad URL breaks:
Are you sick of posting URLs in emails only to have them break when sent—causing the recipient to cut and paste them back together? If so, then help is on the way! Go to Tiny URL and enter a URL in the text field. It will create a URL that will not break in email postings and will never expire.



Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Fun and/or informative links for the discerning info-snacker.

This prank on a “grand” scale blurred the line between reality and illusion. Over 200 people gathered at Grand Central Station in New York to pull off a “frozen in place” act.
Grand prank

Whether your personal goal is to be more organized, take more vacations, or lose weight, this website has the tools to help.
Making it stick

An optical illusion that makes your monitor disappear into thin air.
Faux finish?

It’s worth the few-second wait to see this innovative web marketing approach for Hema, a dutch department store. You need to visit their homepage to actually buy something, but this Rube Goldberg animation is a compelling way to involve website visitors.
Going Dutch

Dedicated to trend spotting and cool hunting, this website is the place to track the latest buzzword, the greenest products, or the coolest gadgetry.
What’s hot and what’s not

Sprint communications developed this fun and not-so-tongue-in-cheek microsite to help you save valuable time.
When every minute counts…

OMG, students have trouble distinguishing between formal and informal writing :-O


Do you have comments, questions, or story ideas that you’d like us to cover in an upcoming issue of the Cram Quarterly? If so, email Brenda or call her at 410-467-4672.


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